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BBC boss explains box set strategy: Why some dramas are made available to binge on iPlayer – and some are not

Following in the path of streamers like Netflix, the BBC has increasingly been dropping whole seasons of shows on iPlayer at once – even when the episodes have yet to air on terrestrial TV.

Pursuit of Love
Published: Wednesday, 19th May 2021 at 12:01 am

If you've turned on the TV and become gripped by the first episode of a shiny new BBC drama, there's a good chance these days that you won't have to wait out the week for episode two. Instead, you can shift over to BBC iPlayer where an increasing number of dramas are being made available in full, arriving as a box set before the whole series has even gone out on television.


For example: The Pursuit of Love and The Pact are both currently airing on BBC One, but are already available as box sets. However, you won't find the next episode of Call the Midwife on iPlayer, as it's being released weekly on Sunday nights; nor will you find future episodes of Inside No. 9 until after the Monday night broadcast each week.

So what's the strategy here? Why do some shows immediately get the box set treatment, and not others?

BBC drama commissioner Piers Wenger addressed the question at a webinar about upcoming shows, telling and other press: "We work with the creatives on each of those shows and we take very seriously how they want their show to be platformed and how they want the episodes to be released. We do know – it's no secret that audiences are watching more at their own pleasure, and audiences want to be able to watch shows when they want to watch them, which is why iPlayer is such a big and important and growing part of the service that the BBC has to offer.

"But some stories lend themselves better to box-setting than others, like Normal People and The Serpent – the big iPlayer stories of the last year. They were pieces that you wanted to luxuriate in, so you needed to be able to carve out the time to watch them when you wanted to watch them.

"But Line of Duty – what would have been the fun of knowing that Ian Buckells was 'H' if the person on the bus next to you [was] on the phone to their mate? It would have completely ruined the whole experience. So it's very important with some pieces that we maintain that water-cooler pleasure, but equally we want people to luxuriate in our dramas, and so box-setting is vital."

Netflix seems to have set the precedent here with whole seasons usually dropped online at once. But the BBC isn't the only traditional broadcaster experimenting with the box set strategy for new releases.

Sky has long released shows as box sets alongside linear TV broadcasts; but ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 have also increasingly made whole seasons available after episode one goes live on TV.


Take a look at our TV Guide to find out what's on television tonight, or check out the rest of our Drama coverage.


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